She's Gonna Make It - Margaret Atwood - Best Ever
I know a book is meaningful to me when I can remember precisely where I was when I first read it, my exact setting and mood as I read each scene, my mind intertwining my own experience with the characters’. I was camping at my favorite place—literally in Eden, Vermont—in a secluded area off the Long Trail. There was no civilization in sight, just a vast pond surrounded by trees. While my friends hiked and drank and talked, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. I was in a hammock—which is not the easiest place to read, though comfortable—but I endured, enraptured by the book. I read it in a day, in between warm s’mores and refreshing swims. Being in such a secluded place while reading of Offred and the other handmaids’ abuse and unjust struggles in a futuristic and brutal world was somewhat surreal and, I think, the best way to have been introduced to this powerful work. I had peace, quiet, and time to dive into Atwood’s dark world in which handmaids are sexually abused and treated as lower-class citizens, withstanding rigorous violence daily.
The book is more relevant today than ever
—in the face of stripping away reproductive rights, undervaluing women, and barriers to education and financial independence increasingly prevalent. Much like Orwell’s 1984, the book’s popularity has surged in the Trump era, its decades-old warnings of dictatorships, corruption, and inequality apropos anew. According to Amazon, The Handmaid’s Tale was the most read book in 2017, despite having been published in 1985, more than 30 years prior. Many see both Orwell and Atwood as having predicted the current political climate. Throughout the world, women continue to experience violence and abuse and are denied rights and equal treatment. When I see headlines about states restricting reproductive rights, I think of The Handmaid’s Tale (perfect timing for the TV show, which I have yet to watch. I know, I know; I have to. It’s won a whole bunch of Emmys and Golden Globes. See Anastacia Walden’s review.)
Atwood’s writing has won many awards, including the Booker prize (which she has been nominated for six times and won twice) and the Governor General’s Award. Her work has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list many times, including for her latest novel, The Testaments, the highly-anticipated 2019 sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, published 34 years after the first book.
There’s a reason Atwood’s incredibly diverse writing is so popular.
It’s accessible, moving, thought-provoking, and strange yet relatable. I first read her work in my “The Writer and the Wanderer” class at Sarah Lawrence College. In that advanced fiction course, we read books that told stories of journeys, both literal and metaphysical, and took field trips to experience journeys ourselves. It was the best class I took in college. Atwood’s Bodily Harm follows a journalist on a dangerous journey in which she gets embroiled in a foreign country’s political takeover. It’s exciting and dangerous and dark, right up my alley. I was taken with Atwood’s storytelling prowess, her ability to write strong women trapped in complicated circumstances, her powerful voice.
It was a few years later, for our nightly discussion over cocktails at the Lost River Writers Retreat in Lost River, West Virginia, that I first read Atwood’s short story, “Death by Landscape,” which tells the disturbing story of a traumatic experience at a summer camp. She does some interesting things with perspective in this chilling yet beautiful story. Us writers were in awe of her ability to tell a story, to weave it all together, to surprise the reader while the tone and voice feel familiar and relatable. We talked about her incredible command of storytelling, her precise language, how we can look to her work for inspiration. We all remembered why we should read more Margaret Atwood. “That Peggy Atwood,” one writer at the retreat joked, “I think she’s gonna make it.
As someone who writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and often straddles the line between them, I respect Atwood’s ability to write well in all genres and her incredible prolificity. She’s written more than 50 books, including everything from graphic novels and children’s books to poetry and criticism. I aspire to that kind of adaptability and productivity. I think she’s the best author of the twentieth century, if not of all time. Her work has influenced society today and will, I believe, endure for generations. Her stories have touched so many readers, including me. I love her imagination, along with her bravery at tackling difficult and culturally relevant subjects—oppression, corruption, violence, and loss. I hope, one day, my books will have the kind of impact that camping trip with Margaret Atwood had on me.
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About The Blogger
Erika Nichols-Frazer is a freelance writer and editor, as well as the part-time Communications Manager at the Children’s Literacy Foundation. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She won Noir Nation’s 2019 Golden Fedora fiction prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in HuffPost, Literary Orphans, Noir Nation, Lunate, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Please Do Not Remove: A Collection Celebrating Vermont Literature and Libraries, and elsewhere. She is a reader for Literary Orphans. She lives in Vermont.
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